Tsunami

Holly Michael:

Tsunami, ten years later…

Originally posted on Naty Matos' Blog:

By Holly Michael

Landing in South India, ten days after the 2004 tsunami, my husband said to our contact there, “Send us to the worst affected area, where no agency or person has yet provided help.”

Already weary from nearly thirty hours of travel, I mentally geared up for mission work. My husband, a pastor and native of Tamil Nadu, South India hadtsunami lived and worked in the affected region for more than twenty years and was aware of the living conditions of the fisher folks in the remote seaside villages. He was certain we’d find decimation and desperation.

Back home in Arkansas, we had raised a large sum of money during a week-long, major fund-raising event. As a freelancer for a Guideposts magazine, I planned to cover the story of a teenage survivor. My husband’s predictions rang true and I had no idea how difficult, yet fulfilling, this experience…

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One Day Deal: Be Inspired For a Cause!

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Super “one day” deal for a cause. Just for today, Saturday, October 18th, CROOKED LINES is on sale (kindle version) for only $2.99!

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And guess what? For just $2.99 you support our Nagapattinam Mission Project and get a deal on a great book. (Crooked Lines reached #1 in inspirational fiction category and is getting awesome five star reviews).

About the Nagapattinam Project: Nearly ten years ago, Christmas Day evening, the phone rang. My husband’s brother DeCruze, calling from India. A Tsunami struck the coastline. Thousands were feared dead (Thank God, our family living inland were all okay).

The next day, a local newspaper reporter who knew my husband was from India called for an interview.

“What would you like to do?” the reporter asked.

“Raise funds, go to India, and help. Every penny given will go directly to the victims.”

My husband has a heart for the Lord, but sometimes his zeal means that I need to gear up for what might come next. Walking out of the newspaper office, I questioned my husband, “Do you know what you just committed to?”

He did and meant every word. The church flew into fundraising-mode. The community and beyond opened their hearts and purses. More than seventy thousand dollars was raised.

Ten days after the tsunami we were in Nagapatinnam, Tamil Nadu, South India. My husband said to our contact, “Send us to the worst affected areas, the poorest, most remote villages, where there’s been no help.”

Weary from nearly thirty hours of travel, again, I mentally geared up for what would come next. My husband, having lived and worked in the affected region for many years, explained that the poor fishing villages—huts with thatched coconut leaf roofs—would be wiped out. Many lives would be lost. The survivors would need a lot of help. Helping, doing some good, always makes the challenges easier.

Photo by Holly Michael

Bishop Leo Michael counsels Photo by Holly Michael

My husband’s predictions rang true and I had no idea how difficult, yet fulfilling, this experience would be.

As a freelancer for a Guideposts magazine, I had an assignment to cover the story of a teenage survivor, Tamalarisa, below.

Photo by Holly Michael, Tamilarisa in the remains of her home

Photo by Holly Michael, Tamilarisa in the remains of her home

We provided immediate assistance and helped many tsunami orphans. We arranged for the village headman to bring the children to the local bank where we identified them and put funds in CD’s to be collected ten years later (2014). This would give them money to begin their lives as adults. We also provided a couple of fishing boats for the villages, as their boats were destroyed, and fishing was their only livelihood.

Photo by Holly Michael

Photo by Holly Michael

Orphaned by the 2004 Tsunami, photo by Holly Michael

Orphaned by the 2004 Tsunami, photo by Holly Michael

We returned a year later and offered more help.

Nearly ten years later, we are preparing to return to Nagapattinam for a follow-up visit. On the ten-year anniversary, December 26th, 2014, I’ll publish, Tsunami 2004: Then and Now. Devastation from the Sea. Help from Beyond. (Working Title).

I’m excited to return and see how the children–now adults–are doing and discover their future plans. I’m also curious to see how the once decimated villages have recovered. We want to show them we still care.

This past July, I released Crooked Lines, my debut novel. It threads the lives of two determined souls from different continents and cultures. They struggle with spirituality through despair and deceptions in search of truth.

Here’s my back cover blurb: On the shores of Lake Michigan, Rebecca Meyer seeks escape. Guilt-ridden over her little sister’s death, she sets her heart on India, a symbol of peace. Across the ocean in South India, Sagai Raj leaves his tranquil hill station home and impoverished family to answer a higher calling. Pushing through diverse cultural and religious milieus, he labors toward his goals, while wrong turns and bad choices block Rebecca from hers. Traveling similar paths and bridged across oceans through a priest, the two desire peace and their divine destiny. But vows and blind obedience at all costs must be weighed…and buried memories, unearthed.

Please take advantage of today’s sale and purchase Crooked Lines for $2.99 to support our Nagapattinam Project and help us on this Mission Trip. If you don’t have a Kindle, consider purchasing a print version of the book. Or you can download a Kindle app for free for your smart phone, tablet, or PC. Gift a copy to a friend. It all helps, and I hope to show this results of this help in the book to be published on the anniversary of the tsunami.

Click here to purchase Crooked Lines

Other ways you can help:

1. Please click to share below, twitter, Facebook, etc.

2. Sign up for my newsletter for further news on my books: releases, news, etc. Click Here

3.  Visit my Facebook page and share from there: Click Here

Thanks for your support! Gotta go pack now!! Please keep us in your prayers!

First newsletter…and guess what? Some BIG news!

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Just published my very first Mail Chimp newsletter. Huge challenge for my non-techy-hate-learning-new-stuff-brain, but I got ‘er done! Still trying to figure out how to add a sign-up form on my blog and website, but, for now and for those who haven’t signed up for my newsletter, here’s my exciting news in old school cut and paste method from the newsletter (and a link below to get future issues of the real thing).

First, the banner of the newsletter. It doesn’t have a fancy newsletter name, but oh well.

Hollybanner (1) Ok…here’s the news:

Nagapattinam: Ten Years after the Tsunami

“Send us to the worst affected areas, the poorest, most remote villages, where there’s been no help.” ~ Bishop Leo Michael

My husband spoke those words nearly ten years ago when we landed in South India, just days after the 2004 tsunami. He had once lived and worked in the region and knew of the fisher-folk’s living conditions and the havoc a gigantic wave could wreak on a village with homes built of sticks and coconut-thatched roofs.

I mentally geared up for mission work, but had no idea how difficult, yet fulfilling, the experience would prove to be.

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Now, ten years later, we are preparing to leave for South India for a follow-up visit to the places and people helped from the generosity of America, after a 2004 major fundraising event. (I gotta pack soon).

Funds were used to help rebuild the villages and to provide many orphans with local bank CD’s (to mature in ten years).

Now, the children are ready to collect their money and begin their adult lives. I’m so excited to go back and meet these young people and write their stories. I’ll compile a “then and now” short book (with photos) and release it on the anniversary of the tsunami: December 26, 2014. (Tsunami 2004: Then and Now. Devastation from the Sea. Help from Beyond. – Working Title).

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Though both Crooked Lines and the sequel include experiences in the Nagapattinam seaside villages and some life experiences of mine and my husbands, both are works of fiction. Release date for the sequel is planned for February 2015, hopefully Valentines Day.

Here’s the first paragraph of the sequel to Crooked Lines. (Crossed Lines-working title…do you like that title? Let me know in the comments.): Like swirls of smoke from incense, smoldering heaps sent the remains of the dead up to God. I turned away from the distant piles of burning bodies. Nagapattinam, two weeks after the tsunami, wasn’t the India I’d been imagining for the past twenty years. Yet, every storm that swept into my life since I was a teenager had prepared me for this time and place. 

photo by Holly Michael

And in case you haven’t gotten Crooked Lines (reached #1 spot in inspirational fiction on Amazon) here’s the back-cover blurb: On the shores of Lake Michigan, Rebecca Meyer seeks escape. Guilt-ridden over her little sister’s death, she sets her heart on India, a symbol of peace. Across the ocean in South India, Sagai Raj leaves his tranquil hill station home and impoverished family to answer a higher calling. Pushing through diverse cultural and religious milieus, he labors toward his goals, while wrong turns and bad choices block Rebecca from hers. Traveling similar paths and bridged across oceans through a priest, the two desire peace and their divine destiny. But vows and blind obedience at all costs must be weighed…and buried memories, unearthed.

Crooked3 (1)So…for occasional brief and newsy updates about book release dates, sales, etc., here’s the link to sign up for my newsletter: CLICK HERE. Why not?

Thanks! AND, HERE’S HOW YOU CAN HELP: PURCHASE CROOKED LINES NOW AND PROCEEDS FROM SALES FOR THE REST OF OCTOBER AND ALL OF NOVEMBER WILL HELP FUND THE ONGOING PROJECT. THE NEED FOR HELP IS ALWAYS GREAT IN THE POOR FISHING VILLAGES IN NAGAPATTINAM. Click HERE to purchase Crooked Lines

Guest Post: Connie Almony Solves Problems for Indie Authors & Readers of Christian Fiction

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headshot1 (1)Hi, my name is Connie Almony and I am a creative problem solver. If you give me a problem that should be solved, I will shake inside until it is. That’s just how my brain works, and THAT’s why I created the Indie Christian Fiction Search site—Ickfuss (ICFS) to its friends. I saw a problem and I had to solve it.

The Problem …

What was the problem, you ask? Well, there were a few.

1) Avid readers needed to find loads of books that would feed their insatiable need and target their interests, all without breaking the bank.

2) Christian readers needed to find a greater breadth of story, not often available through traditionally published books, while being within a biblical framework.

3) Christian readers needed extra information—that which is often missing from online retailers—before making the decision to buy.

4) Readers needed a way to search through lots of material that is easy, non-cumbersome and directs them right to books that interest them through search criteria and scrolling mechanisms that allow the reader to sift quickly through blurb excerpts.

Why were these my problems to solve? Well, because I knew it could be done, and yet no one was doing it.

The Focus …

Why focus on indie fiction, you ask? … (Sigh) … My, but you’re an inquisitive group!

I haven’t always been an ardent supporter of indie fiction. I believe an author is well served when many eyes see her work before it is published. I also believe any product is best when it is formed by a group of people using their unique gifts (ie. The Body of Christ). So Indie always looked like someone who just didn’t want to play by the rules. (God often humbles me when I get too opinionated). I worried the work would suffer for it. But then the new era of indie publishing steam-rolled into being. A world of critique partners, beta readers, freelance editors and cover artists, Facebook writers’ groups, search engines and social media platforms. Not to mention the low cost (I mean, how much lower than $0 can you get) of uploading your ebook to an online retailer. All these factors increased the ability to create a better quality book with a smaller investment.

The game has changed, and so has the breadth and quality of fiction.

I didn’t mean to be an indie author myself. I sort of got conned into it by my critique partner, Mildred Colvin, and discovered there is a world of fiction out there that is feeding a need not met by the traditional houses. I have found a plethora of Christian fiction which has been deemed unsellable by publishers for a variety of reasons, be they time period (medieval), character choices (Viking, pirate, multi-cultural), settings (universities, cities, space) or subject matter (mistresses, drug addiction), and discovered worlds like the one in which I live, replete with sinners in need of a Savior. Additionally, I discovered that many of my favorite authors, when given the chance to write from their hearts instead of a marketing team’s idea of what “the public” wants, are EVEN BETTER when writing this way. Yes, you read that right—EVEN BETTER. And as an avid reader, indie fiction is a lot less traumatic to my credit card.

Quality of Writing or Marketing Guts?

So what’s not to like?

I’ll tell you what? Many are concerned that because indie authors have not been vetted by the process of acquiring an agent or catching the eye of an editor, their work is not as good. The truth is I STILL suggest authors go through this process and hone their craft, before making the jump. But there is a point where the author realizes it’s not the craft, but the perception of the general marketplace that is holding him back from publication. Yes, it is nice to have someone “important” like you, but just because that someone doesn’t like you, doesn’t mean the rest of the world must ignore you as well. Many novels are rejected because the theme of their work has not been tested in the marketplace. However, in these tough times of the publishing industry it is likely nothing new will be tested until someone has the guts to do so. Therefore, lots of extraordinary ideas fall by the wayside.

Not with indie!

With indie publishing the READER is the gatekeeper, not the executive, nor the marketing team—honest-to-goodness readers who have a love for the written word, and a great story, just like you do. Independent authors often offer early books cheap (and even free) so YOU, the reader, can get a sense of who they are and what they write. Then YOU can decide whether or not you want to continue reading them.

It’s just a matter of finding this new breed of author.

Sifting Through the Muck …

But there is another problem. Traditional Christian publishing didn’t just vet for quality, it also vetted for biblical content. If you’ve ever gone “church shopping” in a very secular area (as I have) and you’ve seen the variety of agenda’s that come from groups that label themselves “Christian,” you will know not all people wearing that moniker promote the same sort of faith. In fact, in one of our independent author Facebook discussions, one of our members found a “Christian” group writing very decadent—and painful—forms of erotica. In these gate-keeper-less times, someone needs to step up and help us wade through the muck. Indie Christian Fiction Search (ICFS) is designed, asking the author to ensure a level of standard outlined in its Statement of Faith and Content guidelines, while informing the reader so he or she can make a decision as to whether or not the book is right for them. I also hope readers will return to ICFS to comment on books they found either exceptionally inspiring or not quite their cup of tea—respectfully, of course. Again, the reader is King here!

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Finding the Right Books for You…

So now readers will have access to information on a larger breadth of biblically-centered fiction in one place. The next trick is how to search through all the titles to find the one for you.

This is the fun part!

I had a vision from God. Or at least, my mind kept playing images of an old template I’d used for my blog and the many “views” it allowed that would make a quick search of a large amount of material very easy. So I decided to try it out by posting a bunch of friends’ books to the site. I’d been pondering how to do this because, frankly, I find most book retailer sites cumbersome and less fine-tuned to my needs, requiring lots of clicks into things I eventually have no use for. The largest online book retailer comes close, but does not allow for a page full of blurbs under search criteria ready to be scanned. It only gives a page of book titles, cover art and price. With Indie Christian Fiction Search (ICFS), you can plug in search criteria and watch the cover art float across the page.

Sidebar View--edIt’s really cool :o)!!!

Then you can change the “view” of the site and scroll through book blurbs selected by genre or search criteria and pick through the ones that look good to you. There are a number of ways to do this. It’s just a matter of finding the one view that works best for you.

So if you are an independent Christian fiction author and would like to have your novel listed on Indie Christian Fiction Search (ICFS), please enter the site, read through the Statement of Faith and Author Guidelines, and if it’s a good fit—submit. Please review the guidelines each time, as they may change. I will be adjusting things to streamline the site’s functionality.

Dynamic Views

If you are a READER, looking for something reasonably priced and potentially unique, please check out the “How to Use This Site” page and see how much fun a book search can be.

Try out all the views and feel free to tell me what works best for you. Indie Christian Fiction Search (ICFS) will be growing vastly over the next few months so make sure you drop by again. There is also a newsletter you can sign up for that will include links to new titles, and hot-picks, keeping you regularly informed of the latest in indie Christian fiction. I promise, it will not be sent out more often than quarterly. And don’t forget to come back and let us know what you think about the books you read. Remember, YOU are the gatekeeper. YOU have the power. Use it wisely ;o).

Sign up for the newsletter NOW and be entered to win a $20 Amazon gift card. The winner will be announced on November 1, 2014.

Connie Almony is trained as a mental health therapist and likes to mix a little fun with the serious stuff of life. She was a 2012 semi-finalist in the Genesis Contest for Women’s Fiction and was awarded an Honorable Mention in the Winter 2012 WOW Flash Fiction Contest. Her newest release, At the Edge of a Dark Forest, is a modern-day re-telling of Beauty and the Beast about a war-vet, amputee struggling with PTSD.

You can find Connie on the web at ConnieAlmony.com, writing book reviews for Jesus Freak Hideout, and hosting the following blogs: InfiniteCharacters.com, IndieChristianFictionSearch.Blogspot.com, and LivingtheBodyofChrist.Blogspot.com.

You can also meet her on the following social media outlets:

Twitter

Facebook

Pinterest

John 14:19 (Live)

Holly Michael:

Great blog post about being truly “alive.”

Originally posted on The River Walk:

Live Empty

Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. Since I live, you also will live. (John 14:9)

Read: Luke 3:19-20, John 3:1 – 4:45

Relate: Live.

Jesus and His entourage were on their way into a small little town when they came across a funeral procession headed the other way. It was a poor widow who had just lost her only son. Most of the town was actually in the procession grieving with her. Jesus stopped the group, looked at this widow and said, “Don’t cry.” Then He went up to the casket, looked in, and said…

Live.

Jesus was in His home town of Capernaum. After healing a paralyzed man whose friends tore through the roof to bring Him to Jesus, calling a tax collector to leave His old life behind,  and healing a woman from a bleeding that had put her life on…

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The Crooked Lines of Life

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Holly Michael:

A great look at the past, what’s new, and what’s to come in my life. Amazingly, they all tie in together. Going to be a great rest of 2014 and an amazing 2015! So excited! Thanks for the interview, Sylvia!

Originally posted on Silvia Writes:

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After the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Holly Michael of Wisconsin traveled to South India with her husband and joined hands with the army of volunteers to help in the recovery efforts. Holly’s husband is Bishop Leo Michael, a native of India, whom Holly met when asked to do an interview on the success of a small parish.

Two people from two different cultures, raised on two opposite ends of the world, found they are not so different when linked in the common goal of helping others. We need more like them in the world.

This is the story of Holly Michael, journalist, author, and to me: cherished critique partner. If ever there were a book that embodied love and compassion, a story written in such luminous, deeply personal prose, Crooked Lines is it.

Here is Holly sharing the inspiration behind her story — a short narrative complemented by photos.

Holly4 From…

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Religion and Moral Lessons in South India Folklore

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I’m also blogging over at writingpromptsthoughtsideas.wordpress.com and was asked to write an article about Folklore.

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Here it is! Religion and Moral Lessons in South India Folklore.

Kept by Sally Bradley – Big City Fiction with Real Issues and Real Hope

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Website PhotoSally Bradley writes big-city fiction with real issues and real hope. A Chicagoan since age five, she now lives in the Kansas City area with her family, but they go back every now and then for important things like good pizza and White Sox baseball. Sally’d love to hear from you and hear your thoughts about Kept and other great fiction.

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Life has taught Miska Tomlinson that there are no honorable men. Her womanizing brothers, her absentee father, and Mark, the married baseball player who claims to love her—all have proven undependable. But Miska has life under control. She runs her editing business from her luxury condo, stays fit with daily jogs along Chicago’s lakefront, and in her free time blogs anonymously about life as a kept woman.

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Enter new neighbor Dillan Foster. Between his unexpected friendship and her father’s sudden reappearance, Miska loses control of her orderly life. Her relationship with Mark deteriorates, and Miska can’t help comparing him to Dillan. His religious views are so foreign, yet the way he treats her is something she’s longed for. But Dillan discovers exactly who she is and what she has done. Too late she finds herself longing for a man who is determined to never look her way again.

That was new

When her blog receives unexpected national press, Miska realizes her anonymity was an illusion. Caught in a scandal about to break across the nation, Miska wonders if the God Dillan talks about would bother with a woman like her—a woman who’s gone too far and done too much.

QUESTION FOR THE AUTHOR. Why did you decide to write this story? What led to the premise of your story? This story came straight from SportsCenter. (Can you imagine!) I was watching SportsCenter just for Chicago Bears coverage since they were about to play in the Super Bowl, and SportsCenter was doing a series on temptations pro athletes face. One was women who make their living off pro athletes.

They interviewed a woman who made her living that way, by being available to one athlete—and only him—when his team came to town. She was completely silhouetted, except that she had this really uniquely shaped short hairdo.

As the interview went on, she confessed that not only did she do this for one athlete, but for two! And I thought, Honey, I hope you’re wearing a wig. Or they know now.

I could not stop thinking about her. She haunted me. What would make her live that way? She had fallen for so many lies, and I just felt so horribly for her. On top of that, I wondered what would happen to her if those two men did find out? So eventually I had to explore what would make a woman live that way and then give her a happy ending.

And My Review:

Wow! Amazing, Sally Bradley. Kept kept me up until 4:00 am and rarely does that happen for me. Scene after scene drew me in to this excellently crafted storyline with fascinating sub-plots and a spiritual depth that could only come from a Christian who knows Jesus intimately.

Sally, you rocked your debut novel! Totally! Five Stars all the way! Kept is first-class fiction with characters so well-developed that you feel a part of their inner circle…as if you’ve been forever friends with all of them.

Miska–a non-Christian who’s living a scandalous life–isn’t the type of character you’d think you’d instantly love, yet you do. She’s a beautiful, kind-hearted, vulnerable soul who is caught up in a bad lifestyle and truly doesn’t think she’s doing anything wrong. It’s survival. I love that she’s open and honest, real and raw. And the truth, which the reader gets right away, is that she really doesn’t know Jesus–at all. Her past has wounded her in a way that even she doesn’t understand at first.

Miska stereotypes Christians, but asks her new friends questions, even challenges them. She doesn’t easily buy into their odd principles and takes time to understand and weigh these new thoughts as she considers what’s really important in her life.

It’s a fun, frustrating, and heart-tugging walk with Miska. There’s no sudden transformation. She stumbles, falls, gets up and then stumbles and fall again, but you find yourself rooting for her and yes, even praying for her.

Hats off to Sally Bradley for crafting such an incredible novel that covers all the bases; excellent characterization, amazing plot with superb subplots, smooth and beautiful prose, dialogue that fits perfectly to the characters and scenes (even the men), page-turning scenes (never a dull moment), and superbly described locales (I feel like I’ve lived in Chicago). Sally Bradley knows how to draw the reader into the story and hold them there, yes, even until 4 am when you only wanted to read for an hour before sleep.

And one more very important observation: Sally Bradley’s apparent solid, clear, and deep understanding of true Christianity would allow any non-Christian to pick up this book, become completely absorbed, then easily and naturally (along with the characters) be transformed by Christ. There’s no peachiness or shoving it down your throat Christianity in Kept. Even the solid Christians must learn and grow in their faith in this novel. Truly, one of my best reads ever! It’s clear that The Holy Spirit guided the heart and mind of this author in crafting this amazing book. I read literary mainstream fiction and Christian fiction and this novel would fit well in either market.

I sure hope Sally Bradley writes a lot of books because the girl can craft fiction like any bestselling author I’ve ever read.

Sally Bradley’s contact information:

Website 

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Amazon

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Kobo

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Book Review: Crooked Lines by Holly Michael

Holly Michael:

What a lovely review. So pleased to see this from an old and dear friend.

Originally posted on Anniehow...:

indexI am so excited about this book.  I love a good book, especially when it is written by one of my friends!! You can read at about how I met Holly Michael at the end, but first the book review!!

This book draws you in with the very first sentence.  It tells the story of the spiritual journey taken by each of the two main characters, Rebecca and Sagai.  But they are worlds apart; Rebecca is from Wisconsin and Sagai is from South India.

Rebecca has so many questions that need to be answered.  As the story unfolds so many times I could feel her emotional pain, I felt her frustrations and sometimes her self doubt, which lead me to keep turning the page in hopes that she would find her answers.  She is a strong woman with determination that continually shines through even in the face of obstacles.  Something…

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Need Inspiration? First Chapter Challenge

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Need Inspiration? Last week, Crooked Lines reached #1 on Amazon in an inspirational category. Take my first chapter challenge: Read the first chapter of Crooked Lines. If you like it, click the appropriate link to read on. Happy reading :-)
Crooked3 (1)Crooked Lines, Chapter One

Rebecca Meyer White Gull Bay, Wisconsin, Summer 1985

It didn’t occur to me at the edge of the pond that I’d broken the sixth commandment, actually committed murder. I was busy working out a deal with God, swearing to Jesus I’d become a nun if He helped me breathe life back into my baby sister’s limp body. At the time, it didn’t matter that I wasn’t Catholic.

Now, a week after the funeral, Mama set me straight while flipping pancakes in the kitchen. “Daddy blames you for Kara’s death.” She said it like I’d let the milk spoil because I hadn’t put it back in the fridge, but the weight of her words cemented my bare feet to the green linoleum.

She reached for a platter and set it under the open window. The morning sun highlighted old stains, batter spills, and cracks on the brown laminate countertop. A cool morning draft rustled the faded yellow gingham curtains. Mama got a deal on that material from Woolworths before Kara was born. Along with curtains, she sewed four sundresses for each of my sisters and me. It wasn’t fair that the fabric was still with us, fluttering over the sink, yet Kara came and went as quickly as the wind.

Mama transferred pancakes to the plate.

My plan to breeze through the kitchen and escape the house unnoticed should have succeeded because for a week, I’d been a ghost. None of the people in the house—my parents or any of my brothers and sisters—spoke to me. I’d lived a cloistered existence with my blue notebook and unsettling thoughts.

Now, I only wanted to sit under the maple, read the Kara stories, and wind back time.

I tightened my arms around the notebook, holding it to my heart like a talisman, as if my words of love for my sister could erase the raw sting of truth in Mama’s words. Since that day at the pond, I’d been carrying that notebook everywhere, even sleeping with it. In my lake of sadness, in my whirling murky thoughts, those sacred pages had become my life preserver.

Mama snapped the griddle knob off and faced me. “We left her with you that morning. She was only seven.” Her words rushed out in a seething whisper. My shoulders fell and hope slid from them and disappeared out the kitchen window.

Only a month ago in my white cotton confirmation dress, I cited the Ten Commandments and professed my faith at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church.

So confident. So holy. Mama baked a cake.

Now, because of me, Kara was dead. I tugged a loose string on the frayed edges of my cut-offs, then looked back up at Mama. Her short blonde hair was a tangled mess. Her red-streaked eyes shot angry darts laced with sadness. C’mon Mama. Don’t you get it? The deep muddy waters consumed Kara. She’s gone, but I’m here, still drowning.

I ran my big toe over a rip in the linoleum, wanting to bolt, take off and run as far and fast as my long legs would carry me, but Mama’s eyes told me she had more to dish out. I sucked in my breath, stuck out my chin, and met her stare, my five-foot eight-inch frame matching hers. I could take it.

But she walked away, left me standing there. Every fiber in my soul told me to run after her, beg forgiveness, and cling to her legs until she hugged me and told me everything would be okay. That’s what mothers were supposed to do. But no longer a child, those days were over. I winced when the slam of her bedroom door, like a gavel, sentenced me.

“Becca, bring the pancakes.” Tom rose from the dining room chair and waved his fork.

“Hurry up!” Bobby pounded a fist on the oak table. “I’m starved.”

At least one thing at home remained the same; after morning barn chores, my brothers only cared about food.

My limbs loosened. With shaking hands, I grabbed the platter, set it on the table, then tore up the stairs—two at a time. I didn’t look at my brothers. They probably blamed me, too.

In my bedroom, I kicked a pile of dirty clothes and hit something solid, a tennis shoe. I crouched and peeked under my bed. The other. Good.

I kissed the notebook, then stuck it under my pillow. I’d started writing Kara stories in it a week before she died—the funny and intuitive stuff she’d said and done. I even taped her photos inside the pages. How could I have known to do that right before she died?

Tugging on my shoes, I wondered if the Holy Spirit had prompted me to create the Kara notebook when I was still a child of God. He’d visited me once. I remembered Him, not ghostly and elusive, but someone so real. Someone who loved me.

When I was six, He came to me in the meadow. I danced and sang for Him. I couldn’t see Him, but He was there. In my yellow butterfly dress, I laughed and twirled with the dandelion seeds, my blond hair bouncing in the breeze as I basked in His immense love. I stretched my hands high and offered songs of thanks for the creator of the ladybugs, the zippy dragonflies, and the warm summer sun.

God knew me. I knew Him.

But that was then.

I rested my foot on the vanity bench, tied my laces, then looked into the mirror. Eyes dull and ringed by dark circles stared at me, not my bright green ones. Since that day at the pond, I slept in fitful interludes in the hallway in front of the door, me and the notebook with my pillow and a blanket.

I wanted to sleep in my bed, but Kara and I had shared the room since she was born. Every night she left her bed, crossed the room, stood beside me, and called my name until I woke and lifted the covers, inviting her in.

Standing outside the door each night, my fears would grow and shrink me from a teenager into a child, scared Kara’s ghost would come knocking.

What if she came to my bedside and called my name? Would her eyes have the same accusing stare as Mama’s had? Did she hate me, too?

Chills tickled the back of my neck. I yanked the other shoestring tight, then fled downstairs and out the front door. At the end of the driveway, I turned and ran past the silos toward Lake Michigan. Tears blurred my vision as I ran past fields and farmhouses, cows and cornfields, apple orchards and cherry trees. I ran past evergreens, Indian Paintbrushes, Queen Anne’s Lace, and Black-eyed Susans. Fuzzy cattails poked from marshy lowlands.

Miles later, when grassy ditches turned sandy and the scent of pine replaced the earthy smell of cow manure, I slowed. At Evergreen Lane, I shoved the bad stuff out of my head, leaned against the weathered fence post, and kicked off my shoes.

Summer bungalows loomed over the tops of cedars on both sides of the gravel pathway that allowed public access to the beach. A few silhouettes—like mannequins in store-fronts—faced the lake. Who were they? What did they think? And where would they fly back to before the first flakes of winter fell. Those lucky visitors came to the peninsula of White Gull Bay to escape from places I’d never been, places I’d always longed to run to.

The whoosh and trickle of the whispering waves beckoned me to the shoreline. Gulls screeched and circled around dead glittering minnows. Chilly water rolled over my feet and lapped my ankles.

I scanned the beach for glass stones, bent over and picked up a round flat black one. I tried to skip it, but it sailed straight into a small cresting wave. No luck today.

A long ship crept across the horizon, cutting a path between the cerulean sky and the blue-green lake. Next week, Daddy would be out there sailing on one of those iron-ore freighters. He only came home when November gales churned the icy waters and during spring planting and fall harvest—and for a death.

I watched the vessel disappear until guilt rode on the waves like bobbing driftwood and landed on the shore before me. Daddy would miss Kara sitting on his lap on the John Deere. I didn’t blame him for hating me. I didn’t blame Mama. Kara was the baby, the ninth. I was the seventh. Seven wasn’t a lucky number.

My legs quivered. I sat, hugging my knees. Tears plopped tiny craters in the sand. I was guilty. A sinner with no hope because it was worse than anyone knew. I couldn’t admit to anyone all that had happened at the edge of the pond. How could I say I knew Kara would die that day and I did nothing to stop it? How could I talk about the way I freaked out and ran away when I saw her form in the murky water, even though I knew I’d find her there?

My childhood was over.

“Where do I go from here?” A wave rolled in and nearly swallowed my small voice.

Ignoring the plaintive cries from the screeching gulls, I stood, straightened my shoulders and looked to the horizon. Only two more years of high school. I’d plan. Work hard. I had one thing going for myself. Everyone considered me the smart one because I got good grades and read a gazillion books. Yes, I was smart, smart enough to figure out my escape. I’d find a place of peace, far from White Gull Bay and the awful stuff I’d done.

Then, I’d find someone, somewhere, who’d love me.

***

Sagai Raj, Sheveroy Hills, Tamil Nadu, South India, Summer 1985

“Sagai, wake up. It’s time.”

He opened his eyes. His father, kneeling on the dirt floor beside his reed mat, held out a small tin cup. Sagai reached for the milky sweet coffee. In the soft glow of the hurricane lamp, he sat, sipped, and glanced around the room at the curled, sleeping forms.

His father struggled to his feet with a grunt. Limping since last year’s bicycle accident at Little Lake, he hobbled toward the door, lifted the metal latch, and disappeared into the predawn darkness. Sagai admired the elder man’s quiet noble manners, his wise words, and the kindness he showed toward everyone. Had he caused his worry?

He slid his hand under his mat and pulled out the invitation. After a month at camp, he’d been chosen. He’d been carrying the postcard around for a week, praying his father would give his blessings. Time was running out, school would begin soon, and his destiny did not lie in Sheveroy Hills.

Soft snores from his mother and siblings filled the room. He stepped around them, kissed his fingertips, then touched the Sacred Heart of Jesus picture on the wall by the doorway, as he did every day.

In the small courtyard, the cow mooed and shifted, full with milk. “Don’t worry Muttura Madu, you’ll be milked soon.”

He stepped beside his father, almost shoulder to shoulder now. Appa heaved a deep sigh, then turned and faced him with an outstretched palm.

“Appa?” Sagai rested his hand on top, then his father covered it. An unspoken message of love. Top hand covering and protecting, the bottom holding and supporting.

“You’re my seventh child. Seven is a good number, a heavenly number. My hope was that you, the smart one, could become a doctor and help the family—”

“But—”

Appa raised a finger. “—but God has a different plan.” His tone sounded peaceful, accepting. “Now, run along.”

He let go of the breath he was holding. “I may go? Truly?”

“Yes, son. You may go. You will leave on Saturday.”

Sagai bent down and touched Appa’s cracked calloused feet. He pressed the postcard to his pounding chest, then returned to the house and tucked it in the edge of the framed picture of Jesus. He rushed outside, said goodbye to his father, and stepped onto the narrow cobblestone road. Unable to hold back any longer, bubbling laughter rose from his chest and escaped into the misty morning air. He raised his arms toward heaven as he ran, thanking God for this true blessing.

For the past eight years, God’s love had pulsed through his soul, fueling his zeal as he ran the four miles each way, every morning. God’s love came with the morning’s rays, His kiss in the whisper of a breeze on hot afternoons, His presence in the mist that settled over the Tamil Nadu hill station at dusk. And as Sagai sloshed through pounding rains during monsoon season on roads reduced to muddy footpaths, the Lord never left his side.

Now, Sagai’s smile wrapped around his heart and traveled to his feet, hastening his momentum. The five o’clock Muslim call for prayer reverberated in the hills when the road became packed dirt. The chants, low and monotone, interrupted the lulling crickets and broke the sleepy quietness of the night. He ran over another hill, then down, leaping over slushy mud holes in low areas.

A cock crowed. Another answered, encouraging dawn to break. They always crowed right before his half-way point—the Hindu shrine. At the base of the huge Banyan tree with its intertwining aerial root vines dwelled a Hindu deity, a huge cobra coiled in a snake pit. A shock of hair tacked to the tree indicated a recent exorcism. Instead of speeding past in fear of the snake striking his legs, Sagai stopped. At age fifteen, about to leave home forever, he shouldn’t shake like a small child at this place.

Today, he would defeat his fear. Under the dim streetlamp, he forced his gaze into the ebony eyes of one of the two angry soldier statues that guarded their deity. A tongue sticking out from the huge oblong face challenged him.

Frowning, he looked from one statue to the other. “You two aren’t so frightful.”

A rustling in the bushes shot a jolt of fear through him that rattled his bones and made his heart nearly thump out of his chest. He tore past the shrine, made the sign of the cross and sent a flying prayer to Jesus. On the way back, in daylight, he’d look those horrible fellows in the eye and tell them he wasn’t frightened of them or the snake.

Alongside the old stone fence dripping with purple bougainvillea, he ran. Tamil hymns blasted from homes and out of church doors. “O Jesus you are my all. O what a joy…” Only the Protestants could shower the streets with their hymns like that. The tune stuck in his head all the way to Little Lake, where dawn had painted a pale orange streak over the calm surface.

Fascination and fear of Little Lake slowed his pace. Last month his cousin happened upon a dead body floating in the water. The source of life-giving water lured suicidal villagers as well as recreation seeking Brits and rich Indians who came to Sheveroy Hills for holiday. Their grand bungalows stood like jewels around the lake.

He often wondered what their eyes beheld when they looked out from their fancy homes. Did they see his cousin, the boatman who offered a leisurely ride for two rupees? Did they notice Sagai and his brothers catching fish for Amma’s curry? Where did these visitors return to when God breathed His peace into them from this fertile hill station of monasteries, convents, and spirituality centers?

Bells chimed from the tower of the Catholic mission church, alerting Sagai. Six chimes meant he must arrive at the silver Mahatma Gandhi statue in the town center. He ran…one…two…three…faster…four…five…and six. Gandhi came into sight.

He ran past the statue, past Jack fruit trees, past cypress entwined with pepper vines, and orange groves. A grey stone fence, now speckled with tiny blue flowers continued to snake along the curvy pebbly road. At Pullathachimedu, Pregnant Ladies Hill, he sped by the resting stone. No time to rest. The bell at the novitiate gonged. Fifteen minutes to go. The white steeple spiked over the top of the umbrella trees, sliced with morning sunbeams and decorated with bright orange flowers.

Reaching the wicket gate just in time, he witnessed nearly one hundred novices in habits, slightly bowing and silently processing, two by two, into the church. He slipped in after them. Mosaic tiles cooled his tired bare feet. Thanks to God and his landmarks, he’d made it on time to assist Father Louis at Mass.

In the sacristy, Sagai tightened the cincture rope around the red cassock, then pulled on his white surplice. When a very small boy, he had held mock Mass at home. Amma would pin one towel to his front and one to his back—his chasuble. Circles cut from cardboard served as the host, fruit juice as wine. He’d light two candles and arrange everything on a small table. Vijay, his younger brother, acted as altar server. By age six, he had memorized all of the prayers of the Mass.

Now, ready for the real service, Sagai knelt before the crucifix and promised to stay on his path toward holiness and keep all of God’s commandments. He rose when Father Louis arrived to vest, and handed the priest his cincture, stole, and chasuble.

After the service, Sagai shuffled his bare feet in the dirt at the wicket gate, watching the retinue of nuns file into the refectory. Waiting made him feel like a beggar. If he left, Sister Mercy would think her daily offering of a few slices of bread was not appreciated.

Peals of laughter drew his attention across the road. The private school had already begun their quarter. Two enormous lion statues guarded the compound beside the white pillars that shot up to a high arch where St. Alban watched over the village hill station atop a golden dome. Fenced in by black wrought iron, school children—Brits and rich Indians—in suit jackets, ties and long pants, trickled out of the dormitory for breakfast.

Sagai slid his hand inside his shirt where the two buttons were missing, then tugged the frayed edges of his faded shorts, patched in the back. Sometimes after serving at Mass he’d watch the boys put on leg pads and knee guards, and use real bats on their lush green field. At his school, on the other side of the village, they used a flat stick and played cricket barefoot on a rocky uneven patch.

Hoofs tapped the hard packed dirt road. A cow plodded past.

Sagai rubbed his rumbling stomach and returned to the wicket gate. He was tempted to pluck fruit from the guava tree, or at least pick up one of the many that lay on the ground rotting, but that would be stealing. A sin. The cow, not knowing better, could eat the fallen fruit. He should not.

He knelt and picked up a small round stone and rolled it in his hand. Perfect ammunition. Those pesky monkeys, now awake and watchful, were known thieves. Would knocking one of those screeching troublemakers out of a tree be a sin? Before he could ponder further, a young novice approached, smiling.

“For you.” She smiled and handed him a package.

“Thank you.” An entire loaf of bread. Enough to share with all at home. Sister Mercy must have asked her to give it to him. The novice bowed, nodded, and walked away.

Before he could run, Sister Mercy marched toward him. She eyed the loaf tucked under his arm. Her nostrils flared. Smack. Her palm cracked against his cheek.

“Thief!”

“No, Sister.” He pointed, blinking back tears. “That novice gave it to me.”

Sister Mercy wagged her finger. “Even so, you know that I usually give you bread. You should not have accepted it.” She snatched the loaf from Sagai and thrust her slices at him.

He turned and ran all the way to Little Lake without stopping, horrified he’d be branded a thief. Would his future lie in jeopardy?

On the grass beside the water, he stared at the bread. He never went to church to get free bread. He went to serve. He rubbed his cheek. A monkey eyed him from a rock. Sagai tossed the bread. “Have it. I don’t want it.”

He wouldn’t mention the incident to anyone. He prayed that Sister Mercy wouldn’t report it to Father Louis.

A flat black stone caught Sagai’s eye. He skipped it on the lake. One, two, three, four times it bounced before sinking. Lucky day. He leapt to his feet and ran toward home. God would make sure his dream came true. He’d been chosen. He would go to seminary and become a priest. His older brothers and sisters dropped out of school by seventh standard, but surely Vijay would do the needful—finish school, and go to college. He must. Someone had to take care of the family. His place was no longer in Sheveroy Hills.

Want to read the rest? Crooked Lines is available at these places:

Amazon.com

Barnes and Noble

Kobo Books (Selling well on this site in Australia)

Google Play Books

FlipKart (India and other countries)  Or search for books, Crooked Lines

Hope you enjoy!

 

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